Codex Nekromantia: Section 28

"You live in a church?" Casimir asked.

Emblem nodded. "Now and again."

At that moment, the pair of functioning streetlights above the car gave up the ghost. Casimir, Emblem and Amy were plunged into a darkness more absolute than that part of the city had seen in a hundred years. Even to the north, the usual penumbral glow of the city skyline had dimmed to almost nothing. The skyscrapers were only visible as their lifeless silhouettes blocked the starfield behind them.

"The power plants are failing," Amy said.

"But look at those stars," Casimir said, gazing at them above the dormant skyline.

"Did anybody bring a flashlight?" Emblem asked, standing in the glare of the headlights of the car.

"Look out!" Amy yelled. Casimir and Emblem turned at once. A dozen sets of milky-white eyes shone out of the darkness, moving towards them. In the shadows around Casimir, he could hear the gurgles and scrapes of more zombies.

Emblem ran towards Casimir and Amy, groping for their arms. Casimir felt his fingers wrap around his forearm. To his surprise, the grip felt as binding as loops of steel cable. Emblem half-guided, half-dragged Casimir along the street.

"Mind the curb," Emblem said. Casimir tripped and would've done a face-plant except for Emblem's hand. He heard the dull slap of Amy's sneakers as she also stumbled..

"Thanks for the warning," she said, anger in her voice.

Casimir's eyes began to adjust enough to see that Emblem had dragged them up to the cast-iron fence. The razor-sharp decorations only reached as high as their waists. They wobbled as Emblem kicked in the fence with a grunt from both the giver and receiver. He pulled them into the weeds and let go of them. Casimir immediately tripped over something sticking out of the dirt. In the dark, he fumbled for it and his fingers brushed a cold, rough rectangle. He realized that it was a tombstone.

"We're in a graveyard!" Casimir whispered.

"Why are you whispering?" Emblem asked. "The zombies can smell you."

"Then why don't we get inside?" Casimir asked. He peeked out between the weeds that tickled his face. The zombies had been drawn by the commotion and smell of the trio and now dozens basked in the glow of the headlights, pushing towards the churchyard.

Pushing towards, but not breaching. The zombies on the edge pressed against the fence. Casimir squinted to try to see their faces, and they looked confused.

"How is that fence stopping them?"

"The fence is a decoration," Emblem said. "There are other things here that don't want zombies coming by. Older things, deader things that resent the excursion of necromancers onto their turf."

Casimir heard a voice on the wind. Or thought he did. He glanced at Amy and he could see a lot of the white of her eyes floating in the dark. He shivered.

"Come on inside. We'll be safe for the time being," Emblem said.

They walked up to the wooden doors, made out of slabs of an ancient tree and banded with thick iron. Emblem grabbed the handle and pulled one open. The round, slightly sweet smell of a stone building that had been long abandoned wafted out.

"Are they ghosts?" Casimir asked.

"You could call them that," Emblem replied.

"If the ghosts can protect us from zombies, why can't we take them with us to the Museum?"

"The ghosts aren't protecting us from zombies. They're protecting their territory from the influence of the necromancers. Honestly, they'd prefer that we weren't here, either, but they owe me enough favors that they let me stay now and again, and keep an eye on a few things of mine that I can't part with. It's those favors that are stopping them from pulling your soul out through your eyeballs as a way to pass the time. But when this is over, I might have to find a new place to keep my family heirlooms."

Casimir and Amy followed Emblem into the church.

Their footsteps echoed around the empty spaces. Casimir felt Amy tap him on the right shoulder.

"What's up?" he asked as he turned.

Nobody stood behind him. Amy was off several paces to the left, following Emblem towards the dim shapes of the altar.

He shivered and hurried after them, glancing over his shoulder into the shapeless shadows as he went.

"...and so I haven't lived here in a while," Emblem was saying to Amy as Casimir tried to shake off the sensation of chilly fingers dancing across his spine and re-join the conversation.

"Do you guys feel anything weird?" Casimir asked.

Amy raised an eyebrow and shook her head.

"Oh, don't worry about a thing," Emblem said, "those are just the ghosts."

With the flick and spark of a lighter, he lit several candelabras arranged around the altar. Not all of the brass sockets held candles, however, so their dancing flames served only to enhance the shadows, as they made Casimir feel even more oppressed by whatever floated there in the recesses of the church. Casimir just hoped that whatever they were remained recessed until he, Amy and Emblem left.

Occasional flashes of silent lightning lit the stained glass windows of the church. Each depicted a decapitation, either of a dragon, a devil, or a martyr. The lightning also showed the long rows of plain pews and the rotten tapestries whose hangings had long rotten through. They squatted on the floor in bundles that gave every impression of moving with each flash of light. Casimir tore his eyes away from them to try to keep his panic down.

He watched as Emblem pushed aside a heavy canvas curtain behind the altar to reveal several wooden chests and an armoire.

"If you'll excuse me, I'm not feeling so fresh," Emblem said, "so I'm going to change while I can." He let the curtain fall.

Casimir and Amy stood on the altar of the abandoned church and let the awkward pause stretch into record-setting lengths. Neither of them knew the etiquette for making small-talk in a haunted church while zombies prowled the streets.

"So how'd you meet Emblem, again?" Amy asked.

"I tripped over him last night," Casimir said. "My girlfriend had called. Well, my ex-girlfriend. But I'm hoping that she'll agree to be my girlfriend again after I go rescue her. You know, the whole knight-in-shining armor thing." Casimir shook his head as he saw Amy's eyes glaze over. "But anyway. She called me last night to break up with me. Needless to say, I went out to get drunk and was stumbling home sometime after midnight when I think I tripped on him. Then I recall getting bitten and then him shooting the gun and then that's all I remember. He probably saved my life. How'd you meet him?"

"I've known him forever. He was friends with my parents since before I was born, and he was always around at family events. A few years ago, though, he disappeared."

"Did you ask your parents about it?"

"My parents were already dead," Amy said, as flat as a foghorn. Her voice dropped. "I asked my aunt about him, she said that he'd go on trips, sometimes for a few years. I could tell that she wasn't telling me the whole truth but I let it drop because my aunt never should have been put in the position that she was. My brother thought that Emblem was a secret agent for a long time," she said, cracking the tiniest smile that could still be registered.

Casimir was about to reply, but was interrupted. The wooden doors of the church, so heavy that Emblem had to throw his weight against their bulk to swing them open, twisted open on their hinges and banged against the church's stone walls.

The candles flickered as a wind blew in through the doors. Floating through the doors came a large, pulsing sack that looked like a deformed balloon covered in hideous, deformed faces. Several dozen arms, ranging from thin and weak to thick and burly but all ending in malignant claws, hung down from the girth of the hovering abomination like the mooring ropes that hang from a hot air balloon.

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